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Growing number of e-commerce complaints

The merchandise ordered was not received or was defective. Those are the problems that consumers most often encounter when they are e-shopping in other European countries.

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An increasing number of consumers are requesting assistance in solving the difficulties they face after sending money to a foreign online shop with a few mouse clicks. Last year, the number of complaints of this type received by the European Consumer Centres Network leaped by 74 per cent relative to the year before, bringing the total number of complaints in 2005 to 1,834.

-The increase is attributable in part to the growing number of e-shoppers, but that is not the only explanation. Our experience shows that a number of online shops still have problems with the basics of delivery and payment, says Peter Fogh Knudsen, Director of European Consumer Centre Denmark.

He is the co-author of a joint European report describing the problems experienced by consumers last year when using the web to shop across Europe’s borders.

The findings of the report include:

  • 48 per cent of the Danish complaints are made because the consumers either do not receive the merchandise ordered or experience problems with the delivery.
  • 27 per cent of the Danish complainants experienced problems with wholly or partly defective merchandise.
  • European consumers most often complain about German websites.
  • Consumers do most of their e-shopping in online shops in their neighbouring countries.

The Danish figures roughly correspond to the figures from other European consumer centres.

Almost 50 per cent of the complaints dealt with by European Consumer Centre Denmark last year were in respect of German websites.

- The problem is that credit card use is not as widespread in Germany as in other countries. Instead, the consumers transfer money to the online shop through their bank. If the consumers do not receive the merchandise ordered, they cannot demand that the bank transfers the money back to them. And then they need our assistance in solving the problems with the online shop, says Peter Fogh Knudsen.

There are also a few examples of outright fraud. For instance, bogus websites have been set up, using the name, logo or address of an existing company to lure customers to the online shop.

- This is a criminal act. In cases like that, we encourage the consumers to go to the police, says Peter Fogh Knudsen.

- In most cases, the problems arise because the customer service and order processing of the online shops leave much to be desired. We are working to create a European e-commerce label like the Danish e-commerce label. This label will show the consumers at a glance that it is OK to shop on the website.

In Peter Fogh Knudsen’s opinion, there are a number of steps consumers can take to protect themselves against fraud and bad experiences.

- In general, if an offer seems too good to be true – it usually is, says Peter Fogh Knudsen, outlining the ground rules for secure e-commerce:

  • Always pay by credit card – never transfer money through the bank.
  • Check that the website has a physical address and a telephone number.
  • Buy only from websites with detailed information on the buyer’s cooling-off period and right to complain.

Consumer problems with e-commerce last year are described in the report The European Online Marketplace: Consumer Complaints 2005.